Mississippi Grind is mostly about the travels and travails of Ben Mendelsohn and Ryan Reynold’s characters as they seek fortune on a road trip of gambling and general debauchery. Along the way then encounter characters that give them pause and much needed bouts of human contact, including with Stacey, played by Analeigh Tipton.
The former model and reality TV star continues to move away from the notoriety that gave her an early start, finding projects like Warm Bodies and Lucy to bring her acting skills to wider audiences. Tall, slender but with a warm handshake and an easy manner, Tipton seemed both professional and extremely open, showing a care and thoughtfulness with her answers that’s frankly rare in festival circumstances.
We began by discussing any times that she too might have taken a big risk like the characters in the film.
Do you consider yourself a gambler?
Analeigh Tipton: In my life? Or do I gamble?
First of all, do you gamble?
AT: I’ve dabbled in blackjack and I almost got suspended in 3rd grade for starting a poker ring. We would trade Barbie heads and our parents’ jewelry, which was the issue.
But in terms of gambles in your life, what is the one time that you can think of that you put it all on the line?
AT: In Mississippi Grind, I actually went out and played blackjack one night, and we won a good amount and then we lost it all until $0, which was kind of the point. It was come out even, didn’t lose any money, didn’t gain any money.
I’m thinking in your life, if you can think of one moment that you actually put it all on the line and managed to succeed?
AT: Well, again, that depends on your definition of succeed. Did not die though? I backpacked Iceland on my own, and I feel like that was one of those moments of feeling like okay, I need to do this. It’s probably the best time of my life.
Would doing this movie even be kind of a gamble, as an offshoot on that, because it’s a little bit of a departure from stuff you’ve done before?
AT: Entirely. And with two directors that terrify me because I find them incredible. And they’re two directors that I’ve dreamed about working with for a long time, but the gamble with them was just not fucking up.
It was a lot of pressure for that because it was one of my first still roles.
Do you have any magic tricks, do you know any magic tricks, you perform one in the movie, but do you actually know anything?
[she does the separating-her-thumb thing]
I assure you that works really well on an audio recording.
AT: Oh my gosh, my dad used to do that all of the time and it freaked me out, he was so good at it and he would do this thing with a knife. I’m pretty sure that his actually does disconnect because I’m pretty sure I was floored all the time.
Did you work with a magician on the trick in the film?
AT: Yeah, I really wanted it to look as authentic as possible. Thankfully, this scene didn’t call for a professional magician, but it was something that she needed, it needed to be good enough that it made sense that she was proud of it.
It was a vulnerable moment in sharing this with someone and so they had the little foam ball to disappear and rigged my jacket to pull the kitten out. I took that very seriously, I liked to play with the kitten too.
That’s really your introduction to Ben’s character
AT: So much of my character was shaped with how Ben and I interacted. He’s so gentle and it was so personal, I think. The more films you do, often it becomes a job that you go in for and come out of and it can be an incredible short experience.
Ben was so there – even when they yelled cut, he would stay intimate and stay right there with me, he wouldn’t go off. I think that really set the tone, especially for the scene between us. Everyone kind of did that and no one had that type of personality.
Were there lessons to be learned from the rest of the cast?
AT: I’ve learned kindness from numerous actors that I’ve worked with, and they were definitely amongst that kind. Sienna is an incredible woman. The fact she’s a hard worker, and it’s nice to see someone with so much going on be able to focus and be so clear in that moment too. I’m trying to learn from as many women as I can right now working and especially as I continue with my career, which I hope ages with me, I think that’s the most important thing that I take from situations like this, and I haven’t worked with a lot of women actually.
And you got to work with directors you admire.
AT: Ryan and Anna, the way that they work together is really interesting. Ryan will do one scene, Anna will have another and they both very much respect their opinions. They work so much out beforehand. And I’ve worked with director pairs before and I think that’s usually the best dynamic. They’ve always worked. I don’t know how they do it. I feel like once you find that person with a similar vision and it works, then it does. Lots of people ask me questions about whether they fight on set all the time. No, no that’s why they’re doing well, I think.
You were living in the world of modeling, and now you’re living very much in the world of acting, performing this way. How does the one shape the other? A model must immediately get into a specific mood required very spontaneously, vs. performance which I would think is a little bit more organic
AT: Well, that’s probably why I failed at modeling. Epically and thankfully it was never actually on the plan, I was terrible at it.
What makes one terrible at modeling? Because it’s obviously not looks.
AT: Um, wishing to not do it. I was raised in a very academic family, and I couldn’t rationalize why I was doing it, which sat very uncomfortably for me. It also took me a while to rationalize why I wanted to act. I moved on to L.A. for writing and directing, and I had to understand that I loved being in people’s imagination. If my time now is spent getting to live out someone else’s thing then that’s exciting and fantastic to me. It’s getting closer to someone’s mind that’s so curious. And eventually, hopefully, I get to do more of the creative stuff.
But with modeling, I really, I couldn’t. I didn’t need it, and I didn’t really like the lessons that I was learning.
Are any of those lessons a barrier to some of the roles that you think you’re getting now, and barriers you’re looking to overcome? In other words, are people, if they’re casting you, giving you scripts, are thinking of you as this and not necessarily having the imagination?
AT: Doing Top Model, I was 19, and that was just an adventure of who knows where it would end up. It was a fantastic fun game to play, but I wanted to be a filmmaker. I was never thinking, this is going to affect something in the future, just didn’t think like that.
I’ve since met journalists other people who have this thing, thinking ill that I was on reality TV and now I’m an actress. I could explain myself but I’m not sure if they would listen fully. It has been a little bit challenging sometimes, but I think, I hope my work speaks for itself enough. At least, I’ve done enough work, and I have enough of a talented team around me that that can be overcome nowadays.
Sometimes I’m too tall, but I just worked with Emile Hirsch and that wasn’t a problem.
You want to take jobs that push you creatively and like you say, terrify you a little bit, but you’ve also got to take the jobs that pay the rest as well.
AT: Yeah, I’m doing a lot of indie films right now, so I’ve got some roommates. I live off of my boyfriend’s leftovers basically, which is good. He orders nice food.
I did television for a brief stint and that was fantastic. I went out and bought myself a camera and that was my one like here I have this amount of money and I’m going to invest in something that I’ve always wanted and can have forever, so I have my baby.
What did you buy and what have you shot?
AT: A Laika MT40 and a few lenses. I have a 35mm, a 28mm and a 75mm and I love it. It usually goes everywhere with me. I didn’t take it today because I knew I’d be here.
I shoot street photography mostly, which is why my Instagram is so boring. For a lot of people, it kind of annoys them because it’s low on selfies because no one knows how to use a Laika, generally it’s all manual. I’m glad that it doesn’t have a lot of selfies on it, so it’s like pictures of fences.
In terms of creative side of things, where you’d like to go, do you have projects in mind that you want to make, an idea that you want to grow on or things like that already?
AT: I do. I mean, I have things that I’m working on developing and I have characters that my team and I are working on going forward. The next thing I’m doing is Sadie, which is a psychological thriller which will be a very exhausting, intense experience and this year has kind of been about putting myself in those uncomfortable situations, whether or not I like it.
AT: More gambles. I think you kind of have to in this business.
When you actually want to get behind the lens?
AT: That one’s hard because now it’s been whittled down to what’s practical and where to start with that. And what is the right film to start with directing?
Because it sends a message?
AT: If it’s good it does. Otherwise, hopefully, it just won’t be seen.
You may end up with more roommates. Maybe a reality show about your roommates!
AT: No more!
What types of films do you watch for entertainment or inspiration?
AT: I love a lot of different films. I think I’ve been on so many planes this year and I fully use that time to watch things like Cinderella, movies that make me happy. I was homeschooled with my mom and we’d watch film.
Something that I do pride my career on a little bit is that I have worked with really fantastic directors where they’ve had really excellent actors and sometimes they’re very famous and sometimes they’re just the ones that you see in every film. When I first started out, I was like, oh, I have to get to this point in my career. You just learn that that’s kind of bullshit if you really want any longevity or sanity. I think the actors that I respect are the ones that continue to work because they show up and are so incredible and good at what they do every day. And they’re nice people and you want to be around them.
Ben is just one of those actors, that whatever he does seems amazing. I don’t know if you’ve seen Salvation, but it was the antithesis of what he does in this film.
AT: I haven’t seen it, I’ve seen Bloodline which is very opposite of Grind.
Here he’s so meek and in Salvation he’s kicking Mads Mikkelsen’s ass. Next he’s next in a Star Wars film. You’ve done quieter roles, would you be open to playing a superhero?
AT: Yeah, and I think especially now having gone and done a good amount of indie films and exploring different sides of me. I screamed a lot this year – not screamed in a horror way, but I did a lot of strong, forward things, which is something that I wasn’t incredibly sure that I could definitely do.
I would love a really meaty independent film to do. I think every actress loves that. I’m not afraid anymore because I was of going into the superhero, bigger world. I was very afraid of being cast for one reason and not having the talent to back it and I think I feel I’ve worked with enough people that have approved me in that sense. I think an actor would love to approve himself, but you can’t really build a career unless other people do approve you in the work sense, that I’m confident that I would do a good performance in those pieces.
Charlize is the obvious example of someone who’s lived your trajectory.
AT: I don’t think I was fully ready for it before. But the conversations I’ve been having with the people around me is that’s hopefully the trajectory of this next coming year.
We look forward to it.
AT: Thank you, me too.
What was the first movie that you saw that made you think this is what I want to do?
AT: There is one and it’s not this one for acting purposes, but for moviemaking, Gladiator.
You saw GLADIATOR and you thought, this is how I want to spend the rest of my life?
AT: I was young and it was the first movie that made me cry, it was the first movie that affected me, that I had my CD player and was just listening to the soundtrack over and over, I was obsessed with the fact that a movie took me into that world and I was jealous that I wasn’t part of it and I was like, 10.
Have you seen it since?
AT: I have, many times.
You still like it?
AT: I do, I really do.
Read our full review of Mississippi Grind here.